What does it mean to follow Jesus?

Scripture Reading

And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him.

Matt. 9:9

Followers are Believers

As Jesus began to call his disciples, some of them would later be selected as his twelve apostles, such as Matthew. In his approach to them, Jesus often used this short imperative phrase, follow me. For seekers of faith who are just learning about Christianity, this may raise the question of what does it really mean to follow Jesus? How can we follow Jesus and what happens when we follow Jesus?

For these questions, let us perhaps digress a little and first consider this illustration from the apostle John. Nicodemus, who was a Pharisee, a religious leader of the Jews, approached Jesus one night. The dialogue starts in this passage, “The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.” [John 3:2] While this was complimentary to Jesus, the continuing dialogue was the more noteworthy part. Jesus then leads Nicodemus in the direction of saving faith and for this he emphasized the absolute necessity of the new birth, “Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” [John 3:3] Jesus is referring to being born from above, or born spiritually and this takes place when people come to believe in him as Lord and Saviour (Luke 2:11).

 Now you might be thinking, how does this relate to the question of what does it mean to follow Jesus but it actually has everything to do with it, since to follow him is not merely a case of doing certain things of religion in your life. It must really start with the question of who Jesus is and this is what he was getting at in his conversation with Nicodemus. As the dialogue continued, it brought us to a verse well known by many people. Jesus continued the conversation, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” [John 3:16]  This is an invitation from God to everyone because it expresses his love for us by sending his only begotten Son, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Luke 19:10] Whether people realize it, without this new birth in Christ, they are lost and condemned in their sins as Jesus spoke, “I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am [he,] ye shall die in your sins.” [John 8:24]

Believe and Follow

The answer to what does it mean to follow Jesus as a disciple is to first know Jesus and to believe in what he did for you in his atoning sacrifice for your sins as Paul summarized, “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”  [1 Cor. 15:3-4]  This is further described by Luke who also emphasizes the exclusivity of Jesus’ role as Saviour, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” [Acts 4:12]

For seekers of faith, this is where it all starts on what does it mean to follow Jesus, by making a confession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as expressed by Paul, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” [Rom. 10:9-10] The same apostle who wrote the account earlier of Jesus and Nicodemus, also wrote this eloquent and memorable verse in one of his letters, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son [to be] the propitiation for our sins.” [1 John 4:10]  With this belief in Jesus, one is now ready to follow Jesus!

A New Creation Follows

As believers in Christ, Paul further shared from another letter to demonstrate our place and position in Christ, “Therefore if any man [be] in Christ, [he is] a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” [2 Cor. 5:17]  From this, springs a new life, a new direction and new will to follow the Lord. Jesus was once asked the following question, “Master, which [is] the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second [is] like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” [Matt. 22:36-40]  Jesus was actually quoting from the Old Testament (Deut. 6:4-6) and this statement summarized the theme of following the Lord’s commandments as expressed in the Law of Moses.

The importance of these verses help to underscore the key aspect of our reciprocal love back to God as followers, “…with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” Clearly, our love could never measure up to God’s unmerited love, mercy and grace upon us as Paul expressed, “Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;).” [Eph. 2:5] For believers in Christ though, loving him with all of your heart, soul and mind is the first step in answering the question of what does it mean to follow Jesus.

Sons of God

In conclusion, following Jesus is more than just doing certain things that may come across as having the appearance of Christianity. Followers of Jesus, are believers in Jesus, as Lord and Saviour. As the new birth indwells believers with the Holy Spirit in their hearts, they have a relationship with him and desire to follow him. As the apostle wrote in his gospel account, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, [even] to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” [John 1:12-13]  Notice how this verse brings us full circle back to the conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus on the new birth; this birth is not of a physical nature, but is of a spiritual one as noted with the phrase, “…but of God.” As believers therefore in the Lord Jesus Christ, “…to them gave he power to become the sons of God.” This is indeed what makes disciples destined to follow Jesus right into eternity! 

Bible Study Questions

  1. Why do you think Jesus used this commanding-like phrase follow me when calling his disciples?
  2. Why is it so important to become a Christian by being born again in Christ as part of what does it mean to follow Jesus?
  3. How would you describe being born again to an inquiring friend or family member?
  4. For your faith, memorize Romans 10:9-10, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”
  5. Fill in the blanks from 1 Tim. 6:11. “But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after _________________, ______________, ________________, love, patience, meekness.”
  6. As Christians, what is the primary reason why we should follow Jesus? Hint John 8:12
  7. What is one small thing you can do in your life today to start following Jesus?

WORD GUIDE – * (thence – there) * (receipt of custom – tax collection) * ( quickened – to bring alive spiritually)

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